ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) 'Freewheeling' in the Red Sands of the Arabian Peninsula
The Red Sands of Saudi are, as one can imagine, not the 'normal' beige sands one is familiar with around the rest of the world.
Red Sand is a variation of sand that can be found in mesas and is relatively rare to find.
While there are a few areas around Riyadh, north and south, where one can find such red sands, we availed ourselves of an ATV rental southwest of the capital that proved to be not only exceptionally picturesque but also relatively easy to drive to.
Once there, the vista was very impressive, lending itself to an intense desire to truly indulge in 'the experience.' That said, such an experience can prove rather eventful for there are no 'road maps' nor 'street guides' to follow. Accelerating to 40 – 50 mph across a dune can be very exhilarating…that is until one realizes the dune’s ridge all of a sudden disappears in front of you into a 60 degree drop of 50 – 75 feet.
So…have fun BUT beware! After our excursion, an apparent ‘first’ in some time for US Embassy personnel, two other groups followed us in the weeks after…resulting in one MEDEVAC and two other broken bone injuries.
PHOTOs of Interest:
10 - 26: Bartering (aka 'haggling') Prices
As always, it's a way of life (for Middle Easterners, at least) to barter prices...and haggling for a 1 hour rental of three ATVs was no differentl. If I recall correctly, we settled on 225 Riyal...$60 US.
103 - 104: "Mr. Gravity" + Stupidity = a 'near crippling' experience :)
While zipping around on a 4-wheeler is certainly a great deal of fun, the KEY to such zipping around is not to forget oneself and try to be foolish enough to try and defy 'Mr. Gravity' for to do so, one can quickly learn that Mr. Gravity is NOT your friend...as I found out...a bit to my embarrassing schagrin.
Given one of our group had 'motored' up a steep incline, I opted to attemtp the same, but on a slightly more steep segment. In the end, I was close, but not close enough. A foot or two from the crest, my ATV lost traction, digging deeper into the sand, raising the front end of the machine into the air. Leaning forward, I tried to 'will' the machine forward but 'Mr. Gravity' simply laughed in my face. As the rear wheels dug farther into the sand and the front wheels raised higher in front of me, I knew I had only two options: (1) 'bail' and jump off the machine to one side or the other and let it roll back down the hill or (2) slide off the machine and attempt to push it forward to keep from slipping.
Being the 'combative' man that I am, I chose option #2...and quickly realized it was NOT a smart move. Sliding off the machine to the rear as it rose above me, my feet fought for traction in the sand that had been churned up by the ATV's rear wheels. As I stretched forward, my feet sinking in the sand, the ATV hit its verticle.
Fully stretched, now, and my feet still sliding in the shifting sand, it didn't take a Brain Surgeon to realize Mr. Gravity had won and this 450 pound machine was a split second from doing a 'back flip' down the hill.
The second of two options now faced me: (1) dive to the left or right to get out from underneath...though, given the lack of traction to get a good jump I'd most likely have the machine roll over my legs...resulting in one, if not both, legs being injured or even broken or (2) drop into a good PLF...parachute landing fall...position and allow the machine to roll over the top of me.
Given I'd chosen #2 the first time, I opted for #2 the second time...hoping that the law of averages would be on my side.
Releasing the ATV's handles, I slid down the seat, into a squat with my arms protectively held in front of my face. The machine continued its backward roll, right over the top of me...the gas tank of the still running machine sloshing over my face as I prayed it would not open and spill all over me. Flat on my back with 450 pounds pressing down, the ATV began to settle on me. Realizing i would be...literally...in a 'world of hurt' with a machine twice my body weight nestled on top of me, I kicked my legs up and assisted the ATV on its roll down the hill.
Amazingly, the machine landed upright with me lying next to it.
My two compatriots, with concerned looks on their faces, peered down from the ridge, asking me if I was alright.
"Sure," I laughed, lying in the sand on my back, laughing. "That was pretty f*cked up!" I only learned just how f*cked up it was when the pain hit me as I attempted to stand up. Badly pulled hamstring from flipping the 450 pounds over the top of me with my legs.
That said, though, and given my stupidity? I was more than willing to accept a pulled hamstring given what should have been the alternative(s) :)
105 - 112: Stupidity #2 & 'Kicking Sand in the Face'
Given the fact ATVs were getting stuck in the sand, WHY would one attempt to drive a pickup up a dune?
Watching this group of Saudis was one of the real highlights of the trip. As the vehicle ground to a halt, digging itself farther into the sand, its riders hootin' & hollerin' as it did, another Saudi opted to do a 'kick sand in the face' variation with his ATV.
113 - 115: Riyadh Checkpoints
Maintaining order and security are THE #1 focus of the Kingdom...and one such application to achieving such are checkpoints on all roads leading into the city.